We needed to find a population center big enough to support some RV services because we had a few minor kinks to iron out after several weeks on the road. RV refrigerators are notoriously temperamental, but ours seemed to take it to new heights, barely managing to function if the outside temperature is over 70 degrees. We also needed some fine tuning for out tank systems. Our options were Bend, Spokane, or Boise.
We chose Bend. We intend to scope out different areas of the country as possible alternatives to Alaska for settling down after this trip is over. I was intrigued by Bend because I knew of several Alaskans who recently retired there. People rhapsodize about the place, so we decided to check out it. We are glad we did because now we can cross it off our list of possible places to settle. I don’t want to be too hard on Bend, but, for us, it was no nirvana—too many drawbacks.
First, the weather—it goes from warm and sunny to cold (very cold) in about half an hour. It has been in the low 30’s every night we have been here—not surprising since this is high desert. But the growing season here is really short, a huge negative for us since we want to do some serious gardening. Second, Bend’s recent population boom has vastly exceeded the infrastructure–it feels crowded, with congested traffic for its size (every time you go to pull out anywhere, you have to wait for an endless line of cars), and an overpriced housing market. Third, it’s just too trendy. I think we are too Alaskan for such a Portlandia-type environment.
Bend feels like a college town in search of a college. It has a little downtown area on the Deschutes River, with lots of restaurants, antique stores, and other expensive-looking shops. There is a beautiful park by the river that looks like a college campus on the East Coast. South of downtown is the Old Mill District, which is a mix of meticulously restored buildings (old lumber mills) and new ones, again full of high-end shops, restaurants, and galleries. North, east, and south of town also have large shopping areas, with pretty much every retail outlet imaginable. I don’t know who is buying all that stuff. There are clearly a lot of people with money here and then there are those (hipsters included) who are scraping by working at low-paying retail jobs. Maybe we aren’t going to the right places, but everyone here seems to be white, outdoorsy, and … well … trendy. Not a lot of diversity.
Our view of the place may be jaundiced by our experiences here. When we arrived, construction blocked our turn off the main road for the RV park and we then had to drive about 15 miles before there was any place to turn around. When we finally got here and pulled into our site, it was startlingly cold, started pouring (it was sunny a few miles down the road), and progressed to pea-sized hail. Not a good introduction to the area. Things went downhill when we brought the trailer in—we didn’t have a great experience with the folks at the RV place. Part of the reason may be that they were so swamped with work, but it colored our perception of Bend—not in a good way.
On the plus side, we have enjoyed the restaurants and our RV park. We had an excellent dinner downtown at Zydeco, where we sat outside with Zoe. They brought her homemade dog biscuits and a big bowl of water. I loved them for that. They brought us Cajun barbequed shrimp, wild boar, mussels and clams, and duck fat fries (among other things), and I loved them for that, as well. The town is awash in breweries and good beer. We ate at Crux yesterday (called a “fermentation project” not a brewery)—another dog-friendly venue. Dogs seemed to have reached almost a cult status in Bend.
The RV park (make that “resort”), Crown Villa, delivers a paper to the trailer every morning, has great WiFi, empties our personal garbage can, has a steam room, tennis courts, a gym, and spacious sites. All for a price, of course, but it’s been kind of fun. Our wee trailer sticks out like a sore thumb among all the gargantuan RVs here.
Unfortunately, we haven’t had the time to explore the outlying areas or do any real hiking–the real attraction here. We managed to fit in a short hike today on Pilot Butte, the local knob in the middle of town. Tomorrow, we’ll be heading east.